Kenya Drought Brings Dire Problems; Threatens Tea Production in Region

African women from Maasai tribe carrying water, Kenya, East Africa

African women from Maasai tribe carrying water, Kenya, East Africa. Credit: Bartosz Hadyniak

A drought in Kenya attributed to the La Niña weather phenomenon is wreaking havoc in the east African country, which relies on agriculture for its sustenance. Hundreds of livestock have died as a result of the drought and thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes in search of water and pasture for their animals.

Watering points are drying up and several counties, particularly in the coastal region, are facing a real threat of famine, according to reports. The National Drought Management Authority estimates 1.3 million lives are threatened due to lack of water and vegetation deficit, creating a worsening situation for livestock.

In a recent Bloomberg report, Johnson Irungu, Kenya’s Agriculture Ministry’s director of crops, said that “tea leaves are becoming dry and falling off.” Kenya is the world’s largest exporter of black tea and the country relies on exports of tea as its biggest source of foreign exchange after diaspora remittances. It exports about 95 percent of its output.

Sixty percent of Kenya’s tea production is from small-scale farmers, and with pans and dams running dry, farmers are unable to use irrigation methods they rely on to keep tea gardens flourishing.

This time last year, heavy rainfall from October to December helped boost tea output in the Central and Rift Valley growing regions by more than a third in the first eight months of 2016 from a year earlier, according to the Bloomberg article. However, this year’s worsening drought conditions are expected to shrink tea production volumes dramatically.

WTN161031_KenyaDrought_tumblr_lqip385wlz1r1r5rno1_500 -lo res

Drought conditions in Kenya are causing hardship to farmers and threatening the country’s tea industry.

This, in addition to a two-week strike by tea pickers at the end of June that reduced the harvest and is still not fully resolved and a 16 percent drop in average African tea prices this year (to $2.29 per kilogram), is dire news for the Kenyan tea industry.

The industry is expected to fall short of the 500-million kilogram government target for the year, according to Irungu.

Kenya’s coffee crop is also being damaged by the drought, according to industry officials.

Sources: Bloomberg.com, Standard Digital